This marks the first time that Panama has made the Oscar shortlist for Best International Feature, competing with fourteen other films for five slots. Plaza Catedral, the second narrative film from director Abner Benaim, is a powerful story of a grief-stricken woman, Alicia (Ilse Salas), who meets a 13-year-old boy named Chief (Fernando Xavier De Casta) who earns money watching parked cars outside Alicia lives. They develop an unexpected bond when Alicia finds Chief bleeding at her doorstep.
This film, which examines poverty in Panama, experienced a real-life tragedy when its young lead actor was killed as a result of gang violence after production was completed. I had the chance to speak with Benaim and Salas about the impact of the first-time actor’s death on the film and its message, as well as the significance of representing Panama in its Oscar quest.
You can watch the video below, along with an official summary.
Interview with Abner Benaim and Ilse Salas on Plaza Catedral
Alicia had a “perfect life” and lost it. Her six-year-old son died in an accident. Her grief is plagued by guilt, which has made her disassociate from society, from married life, and from herself. She now lives in the Old Quarter of Panama, a rich colonial enclave surrounded by Panamá’s poorest neighborhoods. There she meets Chief, a streetsmart thirteen-year-old who takes care of cars in front of her apartment and insists on getting paid for his job. Alicia keeps a safe distance from him, until one night Chief arrives at Alicia’s apartment bleeding from a gunshot wound, and begs her to let him inside. How far would you go to help a stranger?
Plaza Catedral opens at the Laemmle NoHo7 in Los Angeles on Friday, January 28th.